Naoko by Keigo Higashino

“Everything has an end. The day of that accident should have been the end for me. All that happened was that the end was put off until today.” Then she added quietly, “You’re the one who made that possible for me.” (p. 274)

When Heisuke Sugita comes home from work one night, and idly turns on the television while he eats his supper, he is totally unprepared for the scene which faces him. It is of a snow-covered mountain, shot from a helicopter, with the voice of a man giving a report that a terrible bus accident has occurred. Indeed, Heisuke’s wife and daughter were in the accident which killed many passengers.

At Nagano Central Hospital, Heisuke learns that his wife, Naoko, was killed. Because Naoko covered their daughter with her body, Monami survived. However, it is not Monami who exists within her body. Apparently Naoko has taken over Monami’s body in a case of metempsychosis: “reincarnation; the supposed passage of somebody’s soul after death into the body of another person or animal.”

The novel is brilliantly told from the point of view of Heisuke who must face living with his wife in an eleven year old’s body. Despite the adjustments which must be made in their lifestyle, not the least of which is sexual, Heisuke is happy because at least is wife is still with him in spirit.

But, complications arise as she becomes older. At sixteen years of age, Monami’s body is quite beautiful. She is popular at school, and much sought after by her peers. She is very bright and hardworking, and Naoko decides that their daughter must carry on her education to the highest levels. When Heisuke discovers a change in their phone bill, and hears Naoko carrying on conversations with a handsome young man when she supposes he is in the bath, he becomes insanely jealous of the life that Naoko is now leading.

It is obvious that Naoko is enjoying the attention, beauty and opportunity that she now has as a teenager. So, is this a case of reincarnation? Multiple personality disorder? Or, something far more sinister?

Just as I would expect from a Japanese novel, this is not a mystery in the sense of a “whodunit”. This is a mystery of epic proportions, a mind bending story on many levels, examining what it is to be a husband and father, a wife and a mother. At the same time, how much does our outside appearance determine who we are on the inside and vice versa?

Naoko is a novel I will be thinking about for quite some time, a perfect psychologically twisting story which Keigo Higashino is so adept at writing.

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5 thoughts on “Naoko by Keigo Higashino”

  1. Wow! I had no idea this book's plot twisted this way. I thought it was a more straight-forward mystery. I was mildly interested before, but now I think I might be more excited for reading this than for (finally) reading his The Devotion of Suspect X. I really love weird-tinged psychological writing, and this sounds fascinating.

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  2. I thought it was a straight forward mystery too, but perhaps that was just the American side of my brain telling me as such. I haven't read The Devotion of Suspect X yet either, but now I'm all the more eager to open it. Surely I will this January which I've determined to concentrate on Japanese literature.

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  3. I just downloaded Salvation of a Saint for my nook from Barnes and Noble. Their ad said he is the Japanese Stieg Larsson, which I find to be a tremendous insult. He is in a league of his own, and that comparison is just plain silly.

    Anyway, this book is incredibly intriguing. It would be great for a book club discussion since the twists might be open (to some readers) for interpretation. Although, I think it's fairly clear what he wants to convey. Shall we talk when you read it? 🙂

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  4. Oh wow! I read The Devotion Of Suspect X earlier this year and loved it. This sounds great, though much more surreal than that book. …Suspect X is more of a straightforward mystery, but I thought the plot was just so, so clever. I completely agree that the comparisons to Stieg Larsson are nonsense (and I say that as someone who enjoyed Larsson's books).

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